Law Review/Journal Articles

Problematic Nature of Social Media for the NCAA

The following article was written by Spencer Wingate.

Jerry R. Parkinson’s article “The Impact of Social Media on NCAA Infractions Cases” does an excellent job of analyzing the increasing importance of social media for the NCAA. The article demonstrates how new frontiers of communication serve as a mechanism to influence public perception and bring about possible infractions. However, social media serves as a double edged sword; at times wrongfully informing the public, but in other instances providing concrete evidence of infractions.

Parkinson was a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions from 2000-2010 (37). His experience enables him to note a number of specific instances social media has been involved in NCAA investigations. He notes that social media has led to a majority of people being ill-informed about how the NCAA works. It is a voluntary association that is self-policing. People often criticize the NCAA without realizing all of the NCAA’s power depends on the participation of its members. Therefore, communication is a fundamental necessity. Social media has made not only communication, but also miscommunication easier.  Every fan now has a social media site to express his “expert” opinion (39). The masses can easily be influenced and develop an improper understanding of a scandal. The NCAA policy of not commenting on investigations only compounds the problem.

Social media can rapidly spread truthful evidence of NCAA violations just as quickly as misinformation is shared. Investigations have been spurned through information obtained via social media sites. Parkinson notes how the University of North Carolina administrators could have viewed their athletes’ social media sites to see their improper contact with agents (46). The evidence was clearly visible, but does that mean the university should monitor athletes’ social media sites? Parkinson believes the institutions are not responsible for monitoring, but they need to be proactive. If they are aware of an issue they need to take action.

Parkinson explains that the NCAA has little information about social media sites in its bylaws. The NCAA’s bottom-up structure makes rule alteration a slow moving process. Currently it is acceptable for a coach to privately Facebook message a recruit, but not publically post on his wall or send a text message. Coaches who committed the violation in the past have argued they did not know how the social media site worked. I contend the NCAA’s vague definitions leave the institution, coaches, and players often unaware of what is or is not a violation.

The NCAA’s responsibility is to provide for the welfare of the student athlete. NCAA infractions occur when a school attempts to gain an unfair advantage. Social media infractions have only been seen as secondary violations giving schools a minimal advantage. Parkinson’s conclusion is the NCAA expects schools to act in good-faith regarding social media. They cannot force fans or boosters to not interact with amateur athletes; the schools should just do their best to deter such contact. He believes as new cases emerge, new precedents will be set.

Parkinson’s time at the NCAA allows him to bring an interesting viewpoint, as he has been on the inside of NCAA investigations. However, in my opinion, I believe too much emphasis is placed on the school’s responsibility and not enough on the NCAA’s inefficient structure and conflicting double standards. The NCAA’s lack of rules regarding social media leaves infraction verdicts inconsistent. Schools do not know what they should be policing until another school commits an infraction. Then, the NCAA comes down on the school; so the lesson is everybody knows from now on? Not only should the university be educating its “representatives,” so should the NCAA. That begs the question, who exactly are university representatives? Parkinson determines a representative is someone who promotes, donates, or recruits for the school (58). Social media has made defining a representative very difficult.  Is a fan creating a social media page clamoring for a recruit to commit to a school a violation? Furthermore, should fans not be allowed to friend potential recruits and post on their wall? Where does freedom of speech come into play? The NCAA rulebook generates more questions than it answers. The rules need to be clearly defined and not determined on a case-by-case basis with each new circumstance. I believe too much is expected from the institutions and not enough from the NCAA. The NCAA’s only source of information regarding possible infractions does not and should not come solely from the schools. Change and progression are important, but so is structure. The NCAA’s rules have too many shades of grey. The rules are meant to even the playing field for all schools, but naturally that is impossible. Some schools are bigger, generate more revenue, have more boosters, a better location, etc. The infractions structure must be transformed. Only then will it have meaning and provide guidance for the current state of affairs.